The German film auteur Harun Farocki dissects “free” West German society in 32 scenes set in an educational context: How to bear a child; how to cross the street; how to conduct a difficult conversation, how to strip, how to reanimate someone. These scenes spanning all of life—from birth to death—form an antithesis to the idea that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Instead, every situation can be planned for and rehearsed.
The fact that this documentary was released the year after the fall of the Berlin Wall made it a devastatingly ironic introduction to West Germany, where the mechanization and detailed recording of the human body eerily echoed the blanket surveillance of East Germany.
The way these 32 scenes are juxtaposed evokes tantalizing interconnections that transcend the specific context of the film; intercut shots of washing machines and car doors being subjected to stress tests venture into the absurd in questioning the notion of the autonomous individual.